Without skill development, technology cannot achieve sustainable farming
Sustainable farming is a new concept, referring to the capacity of agriculture over time to contribute to the overall welfare of the farmer and the community by providing sufficient food and other goods and services in ways that are economically efficient and profitable, socially responsible and improve environmental quality.
It is a concept that can have various implications in terms of appropriate technologies whether it is viewed at the farm level, at the agri-food sector level, or in the context of the overall domestic or global economy.
Pakistan’s agriculture sector faces many challenges including a lack of technological innovation. The negative impact of these challenges is not only affecting our socio-economic paradigm but also threatening our environmental ecosystem by depleting water resources, not improving seed quality and failing to ensure timely availability of farm inputs. Low crop yields, in turn, are reducing the nation’s overall food security. In fact, our farming is anything but sustainable and much effort is required to change this.
One needs to build by reference to get over any crisis. Not everything is wrong in the agriculture sector, but the good is too little right now for it to have a significant impact. So, taking a cue from successful methodologies and applying them to poorly performing segments can be an effective strategy.
Sugarcane (Saccharum Officinarum L.) is an important cash crop in Pakistan. In terms of area under cultivation and sugar production, Pakistan ranks high among countries. Pakistan ranks 5th in the world in terms of area under sugarcane, although sugarcane farming faces the same challenges as other crop.
The harvestable yield potential of the current genepool of sugarcane cultivars is more than 150 t/ha, however our national average yield is 60 t/ha which is far below the genetic potential. Many countries have national averages ranging from 80-100 t/ha` yield. This yield gap must be bridged to match the sugar demands of an ever-increasing population.
This issue can be addressed by increasing the productivity of the sugarcane through various agro-management practices. This is a long duration crop which can occupy the land for more than 12 months from sowing to harvesting. Many small and medium-scale farmers cannot afford to wait for so long due to the higher pressure for food to feed their families.
On the other hand, corporate farming is actively engaged in transforming this crop through innovation and technological reform. Much can be learnt from its experience with various sugarcane farmers. This can greatly benefit the formulation of policy.
Introduction of sustainable methods, such as precision farming is known to have increased crop yields manifold. Farmers can benefit from modern tools, such as satellite and drone technology, precise monitoring and measurement of farm inputs, use of smart moisture sensors and aerial spraying, while having access to real time information on crop condition and harvesting patterns.
It is important to talk about the required synergy between farmers and industry to transform conventional farming into technology-based agriculture. Industry needs to spearhead this vision and empower the farmers.
This has enabled farmers to take timely decisions on crop management, leading to a significant reduction in cost of production and manifold increase in their productivity.
Evolution of scientific research and development has enriched the required technical and mechanical capabilities to adopt the concept of precision farming. Among the many parameters, sowing and harvesting technologies, location of lands or crop zones, seed treatment, planting patterns, developing new crop varieties through research-led bio-technology drive the vision of modern agriculture. This new way of farming will eventually become possible across other crops.
Water scarcity is another major challenge facing Pakistan. Modern irrigation techniques can help to save our precious water resources. Modern technologies and machinery adopted by the select sugarcane farmers, including laser-guided land levelling and use of central pivot irrigation system, enable proper distribution of irrigation water across their farm lands, saving time and energy as well as precious water.
These technologies and equipment can be introduced in sugarcane farms situated in underserved areas of Dera Ismail Khan, Layyah, Mianwali, Chiniot and Okara.
To address the issue of low crop yield, a very innovative concept of producing granular bio fertilizer from the byproducts of sugarcane; such as press mud, ash and molasses was provided to farmers on subsidised rates. Its rich organic matter content resulted better yields. This initiative created a win-win situation for all concerned and helped to improve the environmental footprint by enriching the soil in an organic way.
It is important also to talk about the required synergy between farmers and industry to transform conventional farming into technology-based agriculture. Industry needs to spearhead this vision and empower the farmers to achieve the desired growth and productivity.
Without skill development, technology alone cannot achieve sustainable farming. Industry also needs to support the farmers in acquiring important farm inputs and timely transportation of farm produce to the factories.
The writer has a PhD in sugarcane planting patterns with intercropping options and is currently engaged in research and teaching at the University of Agriculture in Faisalabad